Police enforce emergency rules: Sussex checkpoints intended to inform out-of-state travelers

State police conduct a checkpoint along southbound Del. 1 in Rehoboth Beach on Saturday. Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder

DOVER — State police had their eyes on out-of-state travelers Saturday, as several checkpoints were established in Sussex County.

“We’re just passing on the information to them, as to what the expectations are regarding quarantine and what the restrictions are,” said Master Cpl. Michael Austin, a spokesman for the Delaware State Police.

On Saturday, DSP manned checkpoints along the Del. 1 corridor, Plantation Road and further downstate, near Bethany Beach, he said.

In Sussex County, with Maryland so close, “in a border town, or border roadways, we’re going to have that overlap in Delaware,” he said.

Cpl. Austin called the measures educational, though he noted that this is a law that was enacted when Gov. John Carney declared the state of emergency.

“Enforcement and punitive charges are not what our intent is,” he said. “Our intent is primarily to inform and educate, just in the name of public health.”

The checkpoints Saturday followed a similar effort from Friday. In northern New Castle County, checkpoints brought no arrests or citations as approximately 500 vehicles passed through from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Data for Sussex was not available by press time.

Delaware State Police Thursday night conducted patrols in the Claymont area known to have a large amount of out of state travelers on non-interstate roadways. The out of state motorists were advised of the law to self-quarantine for 14 days or immediately return to their home state, a news release said.

The state of emergency order authorizes any Delaware law enforcement officer to stop a vehicle driving within the state simply because it is displaying an out-of-state tag. This authorization does not apply to vehicles traveling on I-95, I-295, or I-495.

Delaware State Police “will continue to carry out their duties as they always have, by enforcing the laws of the state of Delaware in an appropriate, compassionate, professional and just manner,” spokeswoman Master Cpl. Melissa Jaffe said.

State police talk to a driver during Saturday’s Del. 1 checkpoint in Rehoboth Beach. Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder

“If it is deemed that an individual is not in compliance with Governor Carney’s orders they are subject to be cited.”

Throughout the week, local police said the heeding of the state’s ongoing health and safety mandates was: So far, mostly so good.

Two public gathering citations had been issued in the Wilmington and Lewes areas amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Delaware Department of Justice reported.

Five cease-and-desist citations had been delivered to businesses regarding Gov. John Carney’s State of Emergency Order, including a tobacco shop on Friday.

In Smyrna, Cpl. Brian Donner said officers responded to some too-large gatherings and “each and every time the groups have dispersed immediately upon our request and have not resisted us at all.

“We certainly hope that this continues as all of us get used to the new normal.”

There’s been just one known travel violation case (in Sussex County), the DOJ said prior to the weekend.

An emergency order violation charge is a misdemeanor and may bring a fine between $50 and $500 or up to six months incarceration for each offense.

Middletown Police Chief Rob Kracyla repeated a common theme when it comes to addressing potential violations.

“We’ll always take an educational route first and explain the governor’s mandate,” he said. “The hope is that nothing else will be needed.”

Said Smyrna’s Cpl. Donner, “Currently what we are seeing is broad voluntary compliance with the guidelines put in place.

“We certainly hope our community continues to voluntarily comply but we stand ready to address any issues in accordance with the order and guidelines from the Attorney General.”

Milford had not had issues, said Sgt. Robert Masten. “We are keeping an eye on things and will address anything on a case by case basis, being as reasonable as we can,” he said.

A TenderBones Rib Shack employee takes Take Out orders outside the restaurant on Friday in Dover. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Camden Chief Marcus Whitney said arrests will only be made in his jurisdiction as a last resort.

“Our approach is heavily focused on public health,” he said. “Incidents involving violations of the governor’s order will be met with first ensuring people are fully aware of it and then attempts to gain compliance.”

Straddling the state line between Sussex and Wicomico counties, Delmar officers are enforcing orders from both Delaware and Maryland governors.

“Our officers will ask questions to determine if someone is in violation of the orders and appropriately address the matter,” Chief Ivan Barkley said. “We will not be stopping cars simply because they have out of state tags.

“We will periodically check on local businesses for distancing compliance. However it is up to their staff to ensure customers adhere to the order, as they are the ones who will be cited.”

Will educate first

In Seaford, Senior Cpl. Eric Chambers said the department has taken the approach to educate first, but repeat contacts could bring a citation.

According to Wyoming Chief Martin Willey, “If it’s someone who is unaware of the order we’ll educate them.

“If it’s someone who’s blatantly flaunting it then that’s another matter. We’ll document every engagement and then contact the Kent County Attorney General for guidance.”

A Middletown Police Department officer monitors traffic on South Broad Street Friday morning. Delaware State News/Craig Anderson

Still, the chief believes the public will follow through with its collective duty to abide.

“I’d expect that most people will follow the governor’s order,” he said.

Dover Police are aware of the governor’s mandates and actions that can be taken, spokesman Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman said.

While Felton police are following governor’s orders, there aren’t a lot of businesses to monitor. The Dollar General “has dedicated hours for the elderly and other patrons, which helps keep the number of people inside the store to a minimum,” said spokesman Cpl. Christoper Guild, who reported no related cases so far.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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